One thing you can count on (besides death and taxes, of course) is that ceramic tile removal will never be an easy task. One of the deciding factors, however, between it being considered daunting and merely a pain in the neck job is whether or not it has been adhered to a cement backing board or directly to the wall or concrete floor. Anyone who has ever done this type of work will tell you the latter is much more difficult than the former.
If ceramic tile has been mortared directly to a wall, the entire wall most likely will have to be taken out or, in the case of a floor, an electric chipping hammer will be necessary to break it up in order to remove it.
But if you’re in luck and the tile has been attached with adhesive and grout to a board, the job remains difficult, but not nearly as difficult as it would be if it were adhered directly to concrete or drywall.
Never count on reusing tile after a ceramic tile removal job. You may be able to save a few of the pieces, but even if you do, removing the old adhesive makes the job so difficult as to render it neither time nor cost effective to do so. It’s best to not bother trying to save the old tile you’re removing. You’ll be doing a big enough job as it is by just getting the stuff off the wall (or floor).
Remove Grout First, Then the Tile
If your ceramic tile removal job involves flooring, begin at an edge where carpet or hardwood, for instance, joins the tile. If removing it from a wall, begin where the edge of the tile work meets the rest of the wall. Start the process by first getting rid as much of the surrounding grout as possible.
You can do this by using a grout-softening agent (found at hardware stores or home improvement centers). Work in small areas of about two-feet square. After allowing the softener to work, you can use either a hammer and screwdriver to chip out the grout, or you can use something like an electric Dremel tool that has a special grinding wheel to help dig out and remove the grout.
Once you have the grout removed to at least halfway its original depth, you can now begin the ceramic tile removal using a putty knife and hammer. Slide the putty knife beneath a tile and then tap it lightly with the hammer. This may cause only one tile to come off or you may be fortunate enough for several tiles to come off at once.
Continue softening and chipping out the grout and then removing the tile in this manner, working in small, two-foot areas, until all the tiles are taken off.
Always take precautionary measures against sharp edges of tile that may fly up by wearing safety goggles and covering exposed skin with gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants (no shorts!).
There’s no getting around it, ceramic tile removal is a tedious, difficult job. But keep in mind that at least this is one job that (hopefully) won’t have to be done again any time in the near future.